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This CEO wants to save women's complexions — and farm animals — one jar at a time

Shannon McLinden, CEO of FarmHouse Fresh, chats with Mika Brzezinski about her struggle to find her purpose, being an introverted entrepreneur, the importance of giving back and more.
Shannon McLinden, CEO of FarmHouse Fresh, taking an injured goat to a veterinarian's office.
Shannon McLinden, CEO of FarmHouse Fresh, taking an injured goat to a veterinarian's office.Courtesy of Shannon McLinden.

Most people don’t associate luxury skincare products with rescuing animals.

But then again, Shannon McLinden, CEO of FarmHouse Fresh, isn’t your typical business owner.

For 17 years, McLinden has been selling her popular, natural skincare products online, in stores and in spas across the world. What her customers may not know is that saving animals has always been central to her business mission.

McLinden’s company headquarters on a farm in KcKinney, Texas is also home to an animal rescue center. Not only does her staff grow botanical extracts that go into their products, they have a barn for animals in need. And profits from the sale of every one of the products help rescue abused and neglected farm animals, including many that come to live and be cared for by the company’s employees. Currently, there are 31 animals living at the sanctuary, including donkeys, horses, sheep and goats.

RELATED: Mika: How my pets are helping me make it through this pandemic

“We like to say we provide rescue for two. We rescue complexions and we rescue animals by actioning our customer’s purchases,” McLinden, 46, recently told Mika Brzezinski, founder of Know Your Value. Brzezinski is an animal lover herself and has adopted several rescue animals into her own home over the years. That includes family dog Cajun, who passed away in 2019 and her cat, Meatball.

Mika Brzezinski with her mom, Emilie, and their family dogs Scout, Cajun and Daisy.Joe Scarborough

McLinden recently shared her story with Brzezinski, including the struggle to find her own value and purpose, being an introverted entrepreneur, the importance of giving back and more.

Below is their conversation, which has been edited for brevity and clarity:

Mika Brzezinski: How did you create a business that combines farming, spa, skincare and rescuing animals? Tell me how it happened?

Shannon McLinden: It seems so disconnected, but it actually isn't.

Growing up, I never really could figure out how I would fit into the world. And I grew up in a really awesome, loving family.

…I just never was book smart. But I was very entrepreneurial. From a young age, I was always making something and selling it or giving it away. And it was everything from crocheting towels that I would sell door to door in my neighborhood … decorating shoes for people … I moved on to T-shirts, beading jackets -- like intricate, beautiful designs of flowers on jackets. That was what I was excited to do coming out of school every day.

But I never felt like that had any value. You know, you're in school and you're around people who were trying to get the A on the math or history test. And I just wanted to go home and make stuff.

Shannon McLinden said she loved creating things ever since she was a child.Courtesy of Shannon McLinden.

By the time I got to college, I was still actively making all kinds of things. I started writing a manuscript for a book to help teen girls, because I had a really tough time growing up…

I thought I was really unattractive … I sent out 100 manuscripts [to publishers]. I got 97 rejections and three offer letters, and I signed with Lerner Publishing Group. And so, throughout college, I was motivationally speaking and doing book signings and things like that. So again, just creating, I really loved to make things that I knew could have an impact on people.

… And I had always wanted to try maybe working at an ad agency. I love products and creation. And so, I started an ad agency with venture capital funding. I was really young at the time. I was 22…

And this was the first time in my life that I realized if I wasn't part of the creation, I just absolutely hated what I was doing. I hired people who were so good, such beautiful writers and designers, and I was more on the sales side … And I absolutely dreaded every moment of it. I wasn't making, I was watching other people make. And so, I sold that agency…

I was in Texas where it's super hot. And so, when we were outside doing events for clients, we would wear women's open-toe shoes, and you would just kind of stick in your shoes. So, I started inventing a liner for shoes for myself that would make it kind of feel like I was walking on carpet. I had a neighbor came over and she said, “Oh my gosh, are you making what I think you're making?” And she took off her shoes and was standing in a pool of sweat. And that was the moment I realized there is a group of people with something called hyperhidrosis… they spontaneously perspire.

[The product] was life changing for her… I started using my ad agency background and selling what became Summer Soles online… It was so rewarding…

It was those customers really that would write in and they'd say, "… Is there anything else for feet or hands that you could make?" I was jogging at the time. I had been tinkering around with some salt and different oils and things like that to keep my heels from cracking after running. So, I decided I'm going to try something for people whose feet perspire, just like mine do when I'm running. And I bet this will help them.

And so I [made] this foot scrub that I loved. I had to find a manufacturer for it … And I started selling that online and it was selling really well. So, I packaged up about 10 samples and I mailed them to various editors at Oprah magazine. I just kind of went about my day and months passed and then I got a call from the Oprah team. And they said that it had been selected for her O List … I literally owe my dreams, everything to that moment. It just solidified for me that what I was doing was important and mattered and can make a difference.

Brzezinski: And that teenager who didn't feel pretty enough and didn't feel like she fit in any of the slots, it must have been so validating.

McLinden: It was incredibly validating. And what's funny is that people always ask you when you have Oprah’s favorite product like,” oh, man, that must have brought in so much money.” It was never [about] the money [for me]. It was knowing that you have value and you have purpose.

Brzezinski: How did animals come into the picture?

McLinden: Well, the first person that I hired is still with us today …We were driving [one day] and we were working out of my home and [we found] these bunnies whose feet were run over by a car in the neighborhood. And typically in a suburban neighborhood, people drive by something like that all the time, and they don't think twice … We called an animal rescue group and said "what can we do with these bunnies?" They told us what to do. And we spent the whole day getting these bunnies into our car and driving them to a place down the road.

…We found out that between the two of us, we both had many rescue dogs. The next person we hired [had a similar story]. We were spending our nights, our weekends, our mornings, our days, [helping animals] if we found them, which was all the time … So people in the neighborhood knew we were the people that would help.

Shannon McLinden, CEO of FarmHouse Fresh.Margaret Wolf

We just have such an affinity for animals and what they bring to your life. We were in, I think our fourth year of business and we have a product, Whoopie Cream, and it's a beautiful shea butter. It's fragrance is like a whoopie pie dessert, which is this delicious cake. That year, we bought $20,000 worth of beautiful, delicious whoopie pies that were made in Maine. And we mailed them out to all of our top customers. And these were hotels and spas and things. It went over so well. They loved them. But at the end of the day, we sat down and we said those whoopie pies are gone. We bought something for $20,000 that vanished with the snap of a finger. That $20,000 could have bought so many animals out of a shelter. It could have built a barn … And in our head, we all thought, “what are we doing?”

The next year, we reached out to five shelters and we said, we want to pre-purchase every animal … Lines were out the doors of the shelters. We literally cleared the shelter ... All of the animals found homes …

Brzezinski: It’s really clear hearing you speak, even in just a short amount of time, that your business is everything. It's who you are. And you just went with your gut on who you are and just in investing in that. And it not only worked financially, you're so happy.

McLinden: I think through helping other people, you find who you are. It's something that I learned when I was going through depression and when I was very young and just not really knowing who I would be and feeling heavier than the other girls were.

…When you volunteer, it makes you feel good. You feel valued. It comes back to you a thousand percent because you realized it wasn't about your face and it wasn't about your thighs touching. It's about the moments that you bring to other people and their lives …

Brzezinski: I had a very similar experience. I had really poor grades, and on top of it, my father was a brilliant Harvard professor and he ended up becoming a national security advisor. My mother is a remarkable international sculptor. Both my brothers went to Ivy League schools for undergrad, graduate school. I had learning disabilities, but it was before they did anything about that. I had the worst skin and greasy hair. It felt traumatic. But I rode horses. I loved horses and I had tons of animals and rescue animals. And doing something outside of those thoughts is what got me through. And my talents didn't really come from school … It was my own resourcefulness.

Switching gears, you’ve called yourself an introverted entrepreneur. Can you tell us a little bit more about that?

McLinden: I'm a creative introvert. What I have learned about being an introvert and an extrovert is it's about what drains you and what fills you up. And so for me, I can host a cocktail party here at our ranch … and I'll do fabulously well. But at the end of that day, I will be so drained. I will sleep for days. I will not get out of bed. It actually depletes my energy. I can rise to the occasion, but it doesn't fill me up.

… I think that's something you learn as you work your way through your business. You don't have to be great at everything. You find people around you that are really wonderful and talented at so many other things … And together, you can do anything …